In today’s “Penn State Memories” column in the Centre Daily Times, I discuss our top ten list of college football venues. Each of our top 10 venues has built a memorable fan experience that commands our respect, even a sense of awe.
As a follow-up to that column, here are the reasons why each is on our list.
#10 Nebraska. Nebraska prides itself in having “college football’s friendliest fans”, and our experience was that Nebraska fans are certainly fun. The stadium, although a bit old, has a great atmosphere. The tailgating environment is one of the best in the nation. We enjoyed superb hospitality at two different tailgates and we were treated very well by the Nebraska fans who hosted us.
#9 Michigan State. Michigan State has one of the prettiest campuses in the Big Ten. It’s worth a walk through campus on the way to the stadium. Spartan Stadium is a very decent place to watch a football game. Penn State fans are given high seats, which we like because it’s better to see the game. Michigan State fans have always been pleasant to us.
#8 Brigham Young. We played Brigham Young only once in Provo, Utah, and it was a miserable loss. But the stadium itself is immaculate – the cleanest stadium we’ve ever seen. It also has the prettiest scenery – snow-covered mountains – surrounding it. The tailgating scene is pretty mellow. No alcohol is allowed, so it’s a very family-oriented environment. Caffeine-free Coke products are offered in the stadium, something that we’ve never seen anywhere else.
#7 Iowa. Kinnick Stadium is always a favorite away game trip. Their recent stadium renovation has made the stadium itself even better. It’s a very spirited atmosphere. We’re lucky to have access to Iowa reserved parking through connections in Iowa City, so we’re always Penn State clad fans among Iowa fans. People are gracious and welcoming. You can walk across the street from the Kinnick Stadium plaza and partake of all sorts of food and beer stands.
#6 Texas. Texas is an amazing experience. First, the entire stadium stands for every play. Second, there’s “Hook ‘Em Horns”. Then there’s Bevo, their incredible mascot. Finally, we were there during Homecoming, and the Texas Alumni Band was 900 strong, all in uniform!
#5 Ohio State. When we first joined the Big Ten, Ohio Stadium was one of our biggest disappointments. The South End zone consisted of semi-permanent open bleachers that were almost dangerous. That’s where opposing team fans sat. You could only access porta-potties; there was no access to rest rooms in the Horseshoe. But a complete renovation of the South End Zone has made visiting Ohio State an awesome experience. A recent campaign by Ohio State to treat opposing team fans well is making a noticeable difference in the fan atmosphere. Plus, there’s TBDBITL – The Best Damn Band In The Land. It’s really true. Their “Script Ohio” routine is the best band routine in college football.
#4 Michigan. When you walk up to The Big House, it’s hard to believe you’re looking at the largest stadium in college football. From the outside, it has a very low profile. It’s a bowl dug into the ground, so you enter the stadium from near the top and walk down to find your seats. It’s easy in, easy out. The plaza surrounding the stadium is pleasant, with a variety of food vendors. Once inside, the atmosphere is electric and tough. Tailgating on the golf course across from the stadium on a sunny fall day is a top-notch experience, and the fans are always pleasant and cordial.
#3 Wisconsin. Beer. Brats. Cheese curds. Frat parties across the street from the stadium. That’s what you find around Camp Randall Stadium. What you won’t find is parking. You can pay someone in the neighborhood to park in their yard, or you can park at a distant lot on Lake Mendota and take an efficient shuttle bus to the game. No matter. Wisconsin fans are a great deal of fun, and the 5th quarter – where the band plays, win or lose – is a great tradition in college football. So is their song “Varsity” where the entire stadium links arms to sing. It’s a tough environment in the stadium, but we’ve always had very decent seats. Win or lose, Wisconsin fans have treated us with respect.
#2 Alabama. We played Alabama at Tuscaloosa at a homecoming game. Shut them out for the first time in 50 years on three Craig Fayak field goals. The stands were going nuts throughout the game. Everyone was waving pompoms. It’s an incredible atmosphere. But what impressed us the most was the fact that the fans came up to us after such a tough loss for them, congratulated us on winning, and expressed sincere regret that the Penn State-Alabama series was ending. Bama fans have a true affection for Penn State. We’re glad to see them back on our schedule!
#1 Penn State. Beaver Stadium is one of the best designed stadiums around. A walk around the mezzanine pre-game has an incredible view of the surrounding tailgating scene. There isn’t a bad seat in the house, and the atmosphere for a big game is beyond comparison. A lot of stadiums don’t have the luxury of land surrounding the stadium for parking and tailgating. Beaver Stadium is the best tailgating atmosphere we’ve seen – anywhere.
Some might ask why Notre Dame isn’t on our list. We struggled between Nebraska and Notre Dame for #10. Both have stadiums that could use renovations. Notre Dame has amazing football traditions and a rich tailgating environment, but we’ve often been disappointed with the seats we’ve had at their stadium. Some of which were so bad it was hard to see the game. The edge for #10 went to Nebraska, primarily because we had a great experience with their fans. Notre Dame would be #11 on our list.
For those of you who have been to some of these venues, I would welcome your thoughts and reactions. What has your experience been at away games?